What to make of “The Last Witch Hunter”? What a curious conundrum.
It’s too self-reflective to be an entertaining mess of unintentional hilarity, but none of the actual scripted punchlines lands. The premise itself, while definitely out there, could possibly work if the nonsensical screenplay didn’t throw everything at it to see what sticks. There are moments when it achieves the highest camp and times when it strives for dark grittiness, and the attempt to have it both ways is a brutal no-man’s-land.
Like that other witch hunter movie, “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” this is a film that is completely looney tunes, and it only half knows it.
Let’s dissect. Star Vin Diesel pushes the powers of his racial ambiguity to the max in a prologue that outlines the origin story of his witch hunter character. About 800 or so years ago, Kaulder (Diesel) tromps around a forest in his best Euro-tribal drag, complete with inexplicable gingery beard and a fierce weave. He corners the Witch Queen, who’s made up of tree roots and bees; she has brought a “black plague” upon humanity. He skewers her with his fire sword, but not before she curses him to live forever hunting witches.
Fast forward to present day and Kaulder has adopted the cue ball hairdo that is Diesel’s trademark. He has been at this witch hunting game for a while, which means he has powers to deduce the presence of witches by fogging up windows with his breath and whispering “magic!” He can also control the weather by fiddling around with “ancient runes.” He has a sick ride and an entire order of priests dedicated to basically being his personal assistants. Sir Michael Caine is his favorite priest assistant and best friend.
Caine dies and is replaced by Elijah Wood. Kaulder suspects black magic, and with some of his witchy forensic skills, the plot is off and running. Here is a list of things that appear in this movie after this point: maggot cupcakes, magical butterflies, a gummy bear tree, a witch council where a wizard informs them they look like a terrible ’80s band (they do), Elijah Wood wearing a white stretch turtleneck, a botanical witch fashion show, a maraschino cherry filled with memory potion mixed up by Rose Leslie, a blind pastry chef eaten by a tree, and a witch queen whose main superpower is controlling a swarm of bees.
Absolutely no effort is put into explaining why these witches are so bad anyway. As far as you can tell, they are environmentalists who want to turn the urban landscape back into a green space. Apparently the queen must be destroyed because she’s ugly, aggressive and wants to kill Vin Diesel. Other than that, it seems that she just wants to do some undisturbed gardening with her crew. Pardon me, but: Team Witch.
At one point Vin Diesel says that by incarcerating all the witches he’s hunted, they’ve created the perfect coven. This is the moment when you realize that the film should have been called “The Worst Witch Hunter.” He might be the last witch hunter, but he’s definitely not the best. Sounds like the movie.
‘The Last Witch Hunter’
Rated PG-13. Time: 1:46.